GRASP Ambassadors Speak Out on Indonesia Haze Crisis
Ambassadors for the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) today called on the government of Indonesia to immediately ban the use of fire to clear land if sustainable practices cannot be implemented, following the environmental crisis currently unfolding in Southeast Asia.
Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey, Russell Mittermeier, Richard Wrangham and Nadya Hutagalung issued a joint statement that warned endangered orangutans are at risk in Sumatra and Borneo and globally important biodiversity is at stake.
As Ambassadors for the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), we are aghast at the forest and peat fires in Sumatra and Borneo that continue to grow and threaten the populations, wildlife and ecosystems of Indonesia. In particular, these fires threaten a third of the world’s remaining wild orangutans – a population that has already decreased by over 50% in the last half-century and is increasingly fragmented.
The 2015 fires are emitting as much carbon into the atmosphere in a single day as some industrialized nations release into the atmosphere in an entire year. Carbon-rich peatlands are in flames and lost forever, and the resulting toxic haze continues to spread across the region. Nearly 120,000 fires have been counted, and the resulting devastation will likely cost the Government of Indonesia an estimated $30 billion USD.
Orangutans are Asia’s only great ape and are such close cousins that their name literally means “man of the forest.” But orangutan rehabilitation centers are already beyond capacity, and rescue workers are forced to risk their own lives and battle fire and haze to relocate endangered orangutans.
These fires are the result of slash and burn agriculture, conducted by small stakeholders and companies hoping to clear land for oil palm plantations, as well as pulp and paper. While the fires this year are particularly damaging and may be fueled by the El Nino weather patterns, this activity has become an annual, systemic issue. It affects human health, hastens the impact of climate change, and cripples the sustainable use of the ecosystem. For the sake of humans as much as apes, it needs to be addressed.
Globally important forests like the Sabangau Forest and the Leuser Ecosystem, which is also part of the World Heritage Site, the Gunung Leuser National Park, need to be protected not only for the orangutans, but for the rich variety of species living under their canopies. The devastation these fires have wrought is proof that protection of these areas needs to extend past the simple preservation of their boundaries.
We commend the Government of Indonesia for past efforts but new problems demand new measures. Time is short and the future is at stake. To avert desperate crisis for people and wildlife, the Government must act. Most important, it must put in place regulations to stop the unsustainable development of crops such as palm oil. If these activities cannot be properly regulated, there must be a moratorium on burning for land clearance. And, if these activities cannot be properly regulated, there must be a complete moratorium on burning for land clearance, as we have now seen the ruination these fires can wreak. The public, too, can make a vital contribution by demanding products that are not harmful to human health and the environment. The devastation already caused by these fires is all too clear. Creative responses are needed now.
Photo Credit: An Indonesian soldier tries to extinguish a forest fire on a peat land at Ogan Komering Ilir in South Sumatra, Indonesia. Photograph: Muhammad Fajri/Xinhua Press/Corbis